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Infantile Spasms


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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What are infantile spasms?

"Infantile" refers to babies under 1 year old. A "spasm" is a sudden uncontrolled movement. Infantile spasms are a type of seizure Seizures in Children Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical signals. The brain is made up of nerve cells Nerve cells talk to each other through electrical signals Seizures happen if too many nerve cells... read more . A seizure is caused by an abnormal burst of electrical activity in the brain.

What do infantile spasms look like?

Babies having an infantile spasm usually:

  • Jerk their whole body

  • Raise and bend their arms

  • Bend their neck and upper body forward

  • Straighten their legs

Each spasm lasts for several seconds. They usually occur in groups, one right after the other for several minutes. Infants typically have the spasms right after they wake up. Sometimes they have spasms while they're sleeping.

What causes infantile spasms?

Sometimes the cause isn't known. But usually infantile spasms occur in infants who have a serious brain disorder.

Babies with brain disorders that cause spasms usually develop slower than other babies. For example, they may take longer to stand, walk, or understand language. Later on they may have problems thinking and communicating.

How do doctors know if my baby is having infantile spasms?

Your baby's doctor may do a test called an EEG Electroencephalography Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a simple, painless procedure in which... read more Electroencephalography . This test measures brain waves. Doctors can recognize infantile spasms by the brain wave pattern seen on the EEG.

  • During this test, small sensors are placed with stickers on your baby's head

  • The test is painless

  • The EEG may be done while your baby is awake or asleep

Doctors may also do tests to look for the cause of the spasms. Such tests could be:

What is the treatment for infantile spasms?

There's no cure for infantile spasms. Your baby's doctor will try to decrease the number and intensity of spasms by giving your baby medicines, such as:

  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) — a shot that your baby will get once a day

  • A corticosteroid to take by mouth

  • An anticonvulsant (anti-seizure) medicine to stop the spasms

If daily medicines don't help control your baby's spasms, doctors might suggest surgery. With surgery, doctors remove a small area of the brain that's causing your baby's spasms. While such surgery sounds scary, in fact the baby's brain recovers quickly.

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